German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Thurday that the EU's future took priority over Brexit talks as Prime Minister Theresa May met European leaders for the first time since a disastrous election gamble.
Discord over whether the exit process could still be reversed surfaced at the summit as British Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing to brief the 27 European Union other leaders on the early going of the Brexit negotiations that started this week.
But on day one, the United Kingdom ended up agreeing to a different Brexit timetable set out by the European Commission's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, meaning those important trade talks will have to wait.
"For us it's not a question of generosity, it's a question of continuity and fairness", Stefaan De Rynck, a senior aide to chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said at a seminar in Brussels. This could give them higher protection than those enjoyed by British citizens, something that the U.K.is likely to say is unacceptable, European Union officials said.
The fate of an estimated three million Europeans living in Britain and around one million Britons living elsewhere in the EU was thrown into doubt by Britain's vote to leave the bloc previous year.
The situation could embolden the European Union negotiators in the Brexit talks and weaken the British side, though it is still far from certain how the talks, which are due to last two years, will play out.
"That was a very constructive start to those negotiations, but it's also about how we will build a future special and deep partnership with our friends and allies in Europe".
May has faced pressure, including from several senior party figures, to water down her plans to make a clean break with the European Union after she failed to win a clear majority at a snap election earlier this month.
In a two-day summit whose agenda is formally dominated by immigration, security and the economy, Mrs May will also brief her counterparts on the UK's commitment to a new £75 million plan created to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Africa to Europe.
"I think she's got a great offer to make and I hope it will go down well".
Many cities are vying to host the European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency after Britain's departure from the EU.
The UK had wanted the future of trade relations to be considered alongside other issues but the opening day of talks concluded with agreement that progress will be made on citizens" rights, the so-called "divorce bill' and border relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland first.
"First, we need to get Brexit right".
"The UK's position represents a fair and serious offer, and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society", May said.
Brussels has been dismissive of May's call for sweeping and quick guarantees for expats, including over a million Britons on the continent, and says only detailed legal texts can reassure and take account of complex, multinational family situations.
The EU wants their citizens' rights after Brexit enforceable in their European court in Luxembourg.
"I hope we'll come to some form of continued [UK] membership or relationship with the internal market", Mr Rutte said.